WordPress Entrepreneur's Conundrum

A WordPress entrepreneur’s conundrum

Lately I’ve been struggling internally to come to terms with not doing something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. That something being a WordPress entrepreneur, or more specifically building WordPress software products.

You see, I’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit/bug in me. Ever since I was in high school I’ve pursued many different business opportunities, some with more success than others.

But, I’ve never “made it” as an entrepreneur.

The closest I’ve come to “making it” was running my own consultancy for a couple of years, but I landed up taking a full time job after it got too hectic.

The WordPress Entrepreneur’s opportunity

Right now, there is so much opportunity in the WordPress space to build and sell products. My body is itching to get involved by building plugins/extensions and starting a business around them.

You’ve probably seen the many WordPress developers that have become WordPress entrepreneurs over the past few years by building up plugin businesses. They’ve all been doing really well. Guys like Pippin, WP NinjasElliot Condon, more recently Calum Allison, and so many more. Deep down inside, I’ve been quite envious of them.

So the question is, why don’t I start a business like that? I mean, I can write the code required and I have a TON of ideas and free plugins that I could easily start to monetise with extensions tomorrow.

We’ll it’s complicated and comes down to a few different factors. Later in the post, I’ll get to what I’m doing instead of plugins and extensions.

Problems with starting a WordPress software business

I hope these don’t come off as a big bunch of excuses, they don’t feel like that in my head, but more reasoning why I’ve decided to take a different path.

So the first factor is time. Even with running a free open source plugin, I barely get any time to work on or support it. It’s a catch 22 situation here because the reason I don’t have time is because I’m working on other things to make money i.e. a job and my platform. Whereas if I were putting out products, I should be making enough money to replace what I’m currently doing. It is of course, not as simple as that. There are trade offs to be made in either case.

Supporting products is a bit of a headache. I don’t really want to be in the support game. I love building software, but supporting it is another ball game. I’ve seen support break software developers and make them bitter. Yes, you can hire a support team but ultimately, the buck stops with the business owner/developer. And also, hiring staff comes with it’s own set of challenges. I see myself as more of an indie entrepreneur/developer. Someone who, when they build a business, wants to go it alone. Maybe this will change over time, I’m not sure. Don’t get me wrong though, I love working on teams and will continue to do so for a long time, but for a business model I like the idea of going indie.

I’m not sure it fits my ideals. This is something I am working on to define. Who and what is it that defines me? What do I stand for? I love the idea of open software and personally, I’m not sure how that fits with charging people for it. I’m not saying it’s wrong to charge people for software at all, this ground has definitely been tested to it’s limits in the WordPress space and it’s a lot clearer now what flies and what doesn’t.

I feel that I need to focus more on writing core WordPress code. As developers we can’t do it all. I’m pushing myself to the limits with everything that I’m doing. It’s challenging. I take very little time off. With that in mind, and this bridges very closely to the timing issue, I can’t do both WordPress core code and my own plugin code at the same time. It’s just not possible.

The alternative path to products

And so, because of everything mentioned above, I made a decision at the end of last year when deciding what to focus on in 2016, to only write open source and free software.

I also decided to not create any new plugins and I am still mulling over potentially retiring my existing plugins.

It’s been hard. Watching the success of others and knowing you could be doing the same is difficult.

And so, to satisfy my entrepreneurial spirit I decided to go all in on my blog. The ultimate goal here is to make a bit of money from it.

I don’t ever see this blog as being a full time thing. It’s more just an extension of who I am as a developer. Because of that, it ties in very well to my current situation i.e. a full time WordPress developer at an agency who contributes to the WordPress project.

The reason this blog extends me as a developer is because everything I work on, in my day to day development, either relates to or directly influences what I put out on this blog.

My work gives me ideas for posts, my open source code gives me video content, my tools that I use to develop give me course content etc.

It helps with the timing issue because everything I am doing on a day to day basis is focused towards the same path. I don’t ever have to switch gears. My work is my blog and my blog is my work.

Now, I know full well that the earning potential of this tiny little blog on the internet is nowhere close to what I could achieve with selling software.

If I look at people in the WordPress space doing a similar concept to what I am starting, like Post Status or Tom Mcfarlin, I’m sure they’re doing well with their membership sites, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near this.

Last I heard Post Status had around 500 members which is a huge amount, but if you translate that to revenue/profit by doing the math, again I don’t think it’s close to some of the numbers of the big plugin developers.

Giving people what they want is the key to sales, for software and information products

I’ve determined that people are more willing to pay for something that fills an immediate desire or problem than something that will give them long term benefit.

For example, someone is very likely to buy a plugin extension which allows them to accept payments on an ecommerce site they’re launching. It is fundamental to having that ecommerce site function and is a real world problem for them.

Whereas, someone browsing my site and coming across, let’s say a membership program for great content around WordPress development, has less of a desire to buy now as it doesn’t solve an immediate real world problem of theirs.

And there lies the challenge for me as a WordPress entrepreneur. I need to produce content on this blog that solves someones immediate problem so that they will buy. It’s not as easy as writing software but it is doable.

Off the top of my head, an example would be writing an ebook on “How to build a kickass ecommerce site with WordPress, that converts like crazy”. That person who is building an ecommerce site is likely to buy that book.

My greatest hope is that I can turn this blog into something more than just a showcase. That I can deliver valuable content that people are willing to pay for and make a nice side income from it to supplement my full time income as a WordPress developer.

And so to summarise this post, I’ve decided to take the road less travelled as a WordPress entrepreneur. A road where I get to work on open source code, work at an agency and teach the stuff that I’ve learned. Only time will tell if I made the right decision, but I’m making sure that I give it my best shot.

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9 thoughts on “A WordPress entrepreneur’s conundrum”

  1. Dave Warfel says:

    Really well thought out post, Matt. And it’s a topic that you don’t see many people writing about.

    I’ve asked myself a few times,

    “Why don’t you build one kickass theme, and sell it?”

    Having a tangible product is often an easier sell than knowledge/information (and arguably easier to price, which I often struggle with putting a price on my content). I could list it on multiple marketplaces, taking advantage of already established audiences. And most certainly make more money than I’m making now by giving away free content.

    The main reason I haven’t yet… support. I worry that supporting a theme would require so much time that I wouldn’t have any left to explore & learn new things (which, in the WordPress world, are popping up every day).

    Building a subscriber base and earning member’s respect (and money) is no easy task either, but it is the path that I am choosing to take as well.

    I’ll keep an eye out for your 2020 year in review post, where you’ll be posting numbers like Pippin 😉

    1. Matt says:

      Agreed Dave! Support is really a downer and HUGE time hog.

      I think you’ve taken the right path though. It’s definitely hard work, but in the long run it’s very much worth it.

      Here’s to some great years ahead for both of us! 🙂

    2. Abel says:

      Matt’s point on support is spot on. Having been in the premium plugin business myself for the past 4+ years, I can say with confidence that you will spend a lot of time on support. With infinite combination of themes and plugins, you can bet that almost any WordPress install will have some sort of an issue. Many times your product will get the blame for issues until you provide the actual reason. Savvy developers do figure out and fix issues themselves but my average user doesn’t know a thing about PHP/CSS/JS. Often times I find myself spending hours on support. Some are short, 2 minute responses but other times it will take me 30 minutes or more to troubleshoot. A few times a year I encounter a user where our conversation chain will reach 40-60 emails.

      With this said, don’t let this discourage you. You will get a lot of valuable insight from the support requests. It will make your theme/plugin much more stable, and you will get A LOT of new ideas based on user suggestions. One of the best decisions that I made was going with a professional support system instead of a hosted forum or just email. I have used desk.com as the built in tools alleviate many of the headaches. There are others out there so you can pick and choose which one suits your needs the best (e.g. uservoice, zendesk, groovehq, freshdesk…). Also, build your product on a good base framework because you will add a lot of features and don’t want to end up with a product that will be hard to maintain. And one last note, start out with good documentation. It will help greatly, but that itself requires a lot of maintenance as your product grows.

      Good luck to you all!

      1. Matt says:

        Wow Abel, I appreciate your comment so much!

        It’s so awesome to hear from someone who is in the business for over 4 years and has first hand experience of the struggles.

        Thanks for the suggestions regarding support systems. If I ever go in to premium plugins, I will make sure that I come back to this post and read your comment again.

        Have an awesome day!

  2. Ahmad Awais says:

    Good luck with your newly formed motivation. A lot of this post and your story resonates with mine. Then there is Varela Round and saw your name right before mine in Core Weekly this last week. That gave me a smile.

    I started as a blogger, converted myself into a Full Stack Developer over the course of six to seven years while completing my degree in Electrical Eng. (I know what you’re thinking) and working for two companies after that as a web-developer.

    Left being a freelancer and started building products. Haven’t made it as an entrepreneur yet, but have deeply fallen in love with Open Source and the philosophy that goes with it. If only someone would pay me to research new stuff (like I do half the time), write about it, and then upgrade the WordPress core with that… I’d gladly do that.

    While I resist my way to accept a full-time position and saying no to the freelancing clients, there’s hope for one of my products would work well. Right now, support sounds very similar in my head as suggested by you, but hey! I’ll manage to deal with it.

    Would love to contribute a free plugin/theme with you in the next two months, if you have 10 hours to spare (I have 10 to share).

    BTW I have somewhat a similar plan with my own blog, let’s see how it goes.

    1. Matt says:

      Hey Ahmad,

      Thanks for the comment! Your story and background is definitely interesting – in a good way 🙂

      The temptation of full time is definitely alluring. I’m lucky to be working remotely for an awesome company who also pays you to work on some open source WordPress work. So while it’s “full time”, it’s got a lot of nice perks!

      I manage to find just enough time during the day to write on my blog and do video’s after work so it’s going quite well right now.

      Like I mention above, paid products (supporting them) on top of everything I already do right now would just be impossible.

      Let’s connect and talk about working together. Sounds like a lot of fun! What Slack channels are you on? I will look you up.

      Looking forward to seeing the progress with your blog. I enjoy reading it.

      Chat soon,
      Matt

      1. Ahmad Awais says:

        That’s great. You can find me at the WP Slack group or at Skype. My username is `mrahmadawais` there.

  3. Evan says:

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for sharing your story. Much of what you say has also applied to my career trajectory at some point and time.

    For years I’ve thought about creating a few commercial themes to sell, but the potential revenue vs. time/effort/support just didn’t seem to line up. As a 1-person business, I need to make smart choices with my time in order to make a living.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts, and I hope that 2016 sees a lot more blogging from myself as well.

    1. Matt says:

      Thanks for the comment Evan and I’m glad to see others can relate too! 🙂

      Definitely start blogging more, it’s very worth it.

      Matt

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